If you believe certain musical groups, everybody wants to live forever (while ruling the world?). Our fascination with immortality is such that it’s a hallmark of mythology. In our daily lives, we obsess over staying young and healthy (or at least many advertisers and marketeers think we do, or at least that we obsess over how to appear young and healthy). And as a species we’ve funneled a lot of energy into searching for that one secret potion that will rejuvenate, that will indemnify us from aging and death. We might not be searching for a literal fountain of youth anymore, but there is plentiful, serious, high-quality biological research being done into how to slow or reverse the processes of aging. Not to mention all of the scams and hoaxes. Read on for five avenues of research that are or were tempting, and what they really say.
I’m going to start with something you’ve probably heard of. Antioxidants. Antioxidants are things like vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione. They protect against scary “free radicals”, and have been hailed as something of a pop-culutral health panacea in recent years, whether or not they actually heal half the ills people claim they do.
So what are “free radicals” anyway, and why are they so scary? Well, it all comes down to viewing the aging of a human body as being equivalent to, say, the aging of an old iron tractor. The tractor breaks down due to wear and tear: in particular, it rusts. Maybe the human breaks down due to wear and tear, and rust, too.
Wait a minute, how would that even work? Well, just like oxygen (which is, in fact, the source of the ‘oxi’ part of ‘oxidants’ and the most common free radical) reacts with iron to cause it to rust, oxygen can react with your DNA and the proteins in your cells, too. And when it does, it can break them. Damaged DNA and proteins can’t function, which means that your body can’t function, and everything just sort of rusts and breaks over time.
The corollary here is if you could stop rusting, you could live forever.
Cutting the oxygen off at the source sounds tempting, but the reality is that these free radicals are natural byproducts of things that are kind of important for continued life. Like eating, and breathing.
Fortunately, your cells have mechanisms to get rid of free radicals before they do any damage. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione harmlessly react with, and disable, free radicals. And true to form, depleting cells of those antioxidants (and other ones) shortens lifespan. But creatures are very complicated. There are a lot of ways to break us and far fewer to fix us. Adding back more antioxidants (in the form of over-expressing proteins, since eating more vitamin C mostly just means you pee it out) doesn’t really increase the lifespan of flies. So whatever is causing your body to break down over time, it probably isn’t just not enough citrus.
Read the rest of the amazing story from MadArtLab.